Singaporean poet wins Swedish literary price

The young poet. Photo:

Singaporean poet, Theophilus Kwek, has won the Cikada Prize. An award conferred by the Swedish Institute to an East Asian poet whose work “defends the inviolability of life.”

Kwek is 29-years-old and is both the first Singaporean – and youngest writer – to receive such an award since its inception in 2004. He will receive 30.000 SEK as well as some ceramic artwork done by Swedish artist, Gunilla Sundstrom in 2024.

More than just a prize

The poet is not only humbled by the award, but is also grateful for the recognition of the Asian scene.

“I’m also glad that the jury seems to be increasingly looking outside the traditional areas of Japanese and Korean poetry to recognize a wider diversity of new writing that’s coming out of Asia,” he said to The Straits Times.

Kwek’s work typically covers topics such as migration and history. He has already been shortlisted for the Singaporean Literature Prize twice. These include They Speak Only Our Mother Tongue (2011), Circle Line (2013), Giving Ground (2016) and Moving House (2020).
A greater purpose

He holds a master’s degree in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies from Oxford University. He helped raising funds for Oxford-based charity Refugee Resource, and worked on a performance in response to the Rohingya refugee crisis.

And there’s a reason for that. His inspiration comes from his mother’s family, who were displaced themselves. And as for right now, he is currently working on poems focusing namely on displacement.

Jury Chair, Anna Gustafsson Chen, wrote that Kwek is being recognized “for a poetry that is both outward-looking and locally rooted, with a combination of lyrical precision and unfailing social commitment that places it firmly in the centre of history as well as our present age”.

Read the full interview by The Straits Times here.

About Sofie Rønnelund

Sofie Roennelund is a journalist working with ScandAsia at the headquarters in Bangkok.

View all posts by Sofie Rønnelund

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